Legal awareness and formation of Mahila Panchayats is another initiative taken for empowerment of women. These Mahila Panchayats offer crisis intervention and legal aid at community level and help tackle local level legal disputes and assist in reduction and reconciliation of violence against women.
The scheme was designed in collaboration with different NGOs. All the concerned NGOs presented their models and ideas for enabling women for their legal rights. The model presented by Action India, an NGO, was accepted by all and was accordingly adopted. Later, Action India was enlisted as Lead NGO for training.
How Mahila Panchayats (MPs) are formed and how they function.
Delhi Commission for Women has promoted the setting up of Mahila Panchayats. Mahila Panchayats is an innovative collective approach for community participation in dispute redressal. After need assessment and motivation, community leaders are identified and these women are then motivated to volunteer as Mahila Panchayat Members. The 20 MPs members are trained in legal issues, dispute redressal mechanism, trained in the laws relevant to crimes against women, given exposure about the existing legal position regarding property, maintenance, marriage, custody, etc. They are also given training in counselling, FIR writing, pursuing with police station, how to proceed for legal recourse. The Mahila Panchayats itself acts as a "Watch Dog" and its members, after orientation, and training, can handle delicate and family disputes. They find solutions at the local level through the workers in the field itself. they link up with lawyers and issues which cannot be resolved at the Mahila Panchayat level are either resolved by the lawyers or alternative course of action is determined in consultation with lead NGO, lawyer and Delhi Commission for Women.
An intensive legal awareness programme was finalized to be carried out by each of the NGOs who have established Mahila Panchayats. Groups of women and men are identified by the Mahila Panchayats as appropriate for being given legal awareness sessions. Twenty five such sessions are to be organized in a duration of one year by each Mahila Panchayat.
Mahila Panchayats have started taking cases and resolving them at the community level. These cases pertain to bigamy, maintenance, domestic violence, alcoholism and other issues. In most cases Panchayats have been able to resolve the cases at their own level. In some cases, they had to take joint action to bring pressure on the men concerned so as to obtain redressal for the women complainants.